Ten years of [D3] Design Talents at imm cologne. 'Every year was unique', says Markus Majerus, the Cologne Fair's communication manager
Before Milan there was Cologne. The Cologne Furniture Fair, or imm cologne, first opened its doors in 1949, a good ten years before its Italian counterpart. But beyond the high-end, international brand names that set up camp annually at the German big-top design show, Cologne has also lead the way in giving young and emerging designers a platform to show their work under their own auspices.
January 2013 marks the tenth edition of [D3] Design Talents, the show-in-show event for young designers that has seen to date over 500 individuals and universities from across the globe present their materially expressed ideas to a talent-spotting public. Supported by the German Design Council (Rat für Formgebung), the [D3] stage has seen a significant number of now well-established design names take to it, in the hope of forging a professional profile for themselves. Benjamin Hubert, Tomas Alonso and Mathias Hahn are just three of the show’s illustrious alumni.
[D3] contest winners Harry Thaler and Jessica Hansson's 'Pressed Chair' (top) and 'Shadow Cabinet' (above), now produced by Moormann and Ligne Roset respectively
The key component of [D3] is the contest itself. Students or working designers who are not more than three years past graduating are invited to apply for inclusion in the show, which is judged by an international jury of the design great and good. Last year saw over 800 creative hopefuls submit their ideas for consideration. ‘I heard about it through friends first of all before deciding to apply,’ says Italian-born, London-based designer Harry Thaler, whose 2D-to-3D ‘Pressed Chair’ impressed so much at the 2011 outing of [D3] that it scooped joint first prize with Swedish design studio AKKA. ‘To be honest, I had no expectation of it at all because there were so many good designers participating.’
'It’s precisely the encounter between experimental design and the market-driven offerings of the furniture industry that makes the imm cologne so attractive to so many people,’ says Markus Majerus, the fair's communication manager
Swiss design duo Fries & Zumbühl also took a punt and applied for inclusion in the design showcase with little expectation of what might come out of it. The main thing for them was to be able to show on hallowed Cologne ground. They were soon hooked. Two further appearances for Fries & Zumbühl at [D3] led to their ‘Häkeln’ stainless-steel coat-rack being picked up by German manufacturer Flötotto (although, in the interim, it’s manufactured by Authentics).
Piquing the interest of a talent-scouting manufacturer – and, more importantly, the right manufacturer – is, without doubt, one of the main aspirations of [D3]’s contestants. ‘It’s a real platform for young designers to join the industry,’ says Kevin Fries. According to Markus Majerus, communication manager at the Cologne Fair, ‘it’s precisely this encounter between experimental design and the market-driven offerings of the furniture industry, the contrast between the commercial and the experimental, that makes the imm cologne so attractive to so many people.’ Visitors to [D3] are presented with, on average, 30 furniture, lighting and other prototypes – and, of course, with their creators, who are on hand to talk their international audience through what they’re looking at. Rationale, materials, construction. Enthusiastic commentary is never in short supply.
From [D3] prototype to manufactured product: 'Lingor' lights by Mark Braun (top; produced by Authentics); 'Make/Shift' shelving by Peter Marigold (middle; produced by Movisi); 'Wooden Carpet' by Elisa Strozyk (above; produced by böwer)
For some, it’s almost a professional rite of passage. ‘It was definitely nice to meet for the first time people from the design world,’ explains Enrico Fratesi, one half of the Copenhagen-based design office Gam Fratesi, Class of 2006. Post-[D3], the pair have gone on to design for big-name brands such as Ligne Roset and Gubi. But it would be unrealistic, perhaps foolish, to expect that an appearance at a show like [D3] automatically guarantees a contract with a producer. Talent plays a role of course, but so do design trends and, of course, the market. And luck sometimes, too.
What [D3] offers, however, in spades is the chance for you, as exhibitor, to test your ideas on a critical public. ‘Good and professional feedback’ is how Harry Thaler describes what’s on offer, as manufacturers and journalists offer robust criticism on the work presented. But there’s another critical audience here, whose input is invaluable: other designers. The dialogue between peers that the show allows, in terms not only of a shared critical commentary but also of more general advice, is a major part of the ‘business’ of taking part. And this is what makes [D3] so important. It’s not a shiny showcase of finished products (remember, these are prototypes), but rather a laboratory where good ideas, albeit presented in a polished form, are given a good airing.
'Prater' chair by Marco Dessi (top; produced by Richard Lampert); 'Merano' chair by Alexander Gufler (middle; produced by TON); 'Stuhlhockerbank' by Fehling & Peiz (above; produced under own label)
Polished, too, is the framing of the whole event. Thaler, GamFratesi and Fries & Zumbühl all comment on how well organised [D3] is, Kevin Fries suggesting that ‘this may be because of the German Design Council’s involvement.’ ‘The booth is really great and nicely done,’ he adds, ‘and the catalogues and press material are perfect.’ So, a happy customer there, then. Markus Majerus points out that ‘imm cologne bears all costs for transportation, travel and accommodation for the week of the trade show. Therefore, we regard all participants invited for the exhibition as winners.’
But beyond the professionalism with which the annual exhibition itself is mounted, [D3] has sought to create a more permanent legacy for itself, building up an online database of everyone who has participated over the past ten years, searchable, among other terms, by year and product category. (See link at the end of this article.) The [D3] Alumni microsite offers visitors a means of reading the changing topography of the event over time, while providing inspiration for a new cohort of young designers.
'HÄKELN' by Fries & Zumbühl (top; produced by Authentics); 'Serpentine' by Jörg Höltje (Studio Hausen) (above; produced by Ligne Roset)
In the age of the design blog, where anyone can present their work to a global audience, the need for analogue, real-time platforms that bring together emerging design talent like [D3], with its rigorous selection criteria and emphasis on making connections and the cross-fertilisation of ideas, become ever more important. So here’s to another ten editions of the Cologne young-designer show. May you never grow old.
'Bloom' by Hiroshi Kawano (produced by Ligne Roset)
to the [D3] Alumni website